What is it?
Public sector employee’s work for the government providing any of the thousands of services that we in this country take for granted. This could include anything from being a policeman or an NHS doctor to working for the local council or the foreign office.
Those interested in fighting fires or crime usually enter the public sector through specialised routes so in this case, public sector really refers to the civil servants who choreograph our countries services, rather than front line staff.
Working for the government offers a huge range of diverse, interesting and challenging roles that university leavers can turn their skills to. The job is said to be immensely satisfying if a little strange, as your taxes will pay your own wages.
What does a public sector worker do?
There’s a school of thought that would argue that public sector workers are mostly pencil pushers. Whilst there may be some truth to this claim, it should be said that the pencils they push are often the important ones. Whether working in parliament, a local council or directly running a local service such as a hospital or job centre the civil servant is at the front line of delivering the governments aspirational promises.
This may be working directly with people: helping the unemployed get jobs, working face to face with troubled teens or assisting the elderly. It could also mean managing whichever centre provides these services; procuring new equipment and technology, managing budgets, leading staff, planning and implementing new ideas and generally ensuring that the public get what they need.
Not all roles involve public contact – a policy manager for example will be responsible for creating new strategies and formulating ways for a council to deliver services more effectively or efficiently. This could be anything from moving services online to make it easier for citizens to pay bills or claim benefits to assisting in constructing general government policy on any number of issues.
There are plenty of public sector employees working outside central government departments too: art galleries, theatres and even national parks – in fact anything which has public money may require a civil servant.
What do I need to get there?
Since public sector jobs range far and wide, it’s difficult to
say. Assuming you want to go into a managerial role, then a good degree obviously helps. What that degree is really depends on the area in which you want to work. Generally though, it will be a subject that has an application such as Business Administration, Law or Accounting. Arts degrees in English, History or Philosophy can be equally useful, as can some managerial work experience. That said, in some departments a science degree may get you far.
Ok, so that wasn’t very helpful. That’s because public sector employers really are more interested in your personal skills than what you studied. You’ll need to be able to battle with bureaucracy, so be prepared to float in a sea of paperwork and fill forms until the end of your days. When you climb a little higher, the ability to engage in difficult issues and make a decision will be of critical importance.
For many roles you’ll also have to be happy working both with and for the public, and a personal love of delivering a public service will come in handy. You’ll need good interpersonal and communication skills too for working across departments, with important public figures and of course with the media.
Most roles will require the
ability to work in a team on projects or for the delivery of services. Procurement-based roles require users to forge relationships with companies, negotiate on deals and ultimately look to save the council money, while delivering the best service possible.
With regards to salaries, public sector staff can see huge disparities in what they are paid. Those at the
top end, such as council chief executives, often earn salaries in excess of £100,000. For those at the lower end, the starting salary will be very much dependent on position and location and are likely to range from anywhere between £12,000 and £30,000. The average starting salary is about £23,000 for graduates.
Where can I get a job?
Local council websites are a great place to start. Councils don’t always advertise their vacancies with recruitment companies, so there’s often a stash of hidden jobs for those willing to do the click-work.
There’s also the usual cache of websites to check out – jobsinpublicsector.co.uk and publicjobsdirect.co.uk are the first port of call. Many major recruitment websites also have dedicated sections for public sector jobs; gradfutures.com in particular has an excellent section on graduate schemes available.
If you fancy yourself as a real high-flyer and are after something with a little responsibility, then look into the civil service fast-track programme. Selection is intense as you’ll be put in at the top from day one, but you’ll have the chance to make a real difference.
Finally, if you’re interested in going into central government, for example working in parliament, then consider an internship with a local MP. Though not always paid, it’s a quick way to get your foot in the door and get yourself noticed.
Theatres are often funded by the state and will always need up-and-coming directors to keep the public, and therefore the cash, coming in. Alternatively, a love of books and an ability to catalogue and understand a vast amount of information are ideal skills to work in a library.
This article was produced in association with Kingston University Careers & Employability Service